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Salt in Baking

I notice that sweets recipes originating the UK many times do not include salt. In the US salt is always in the ingredients.

What does everyone out there think about, for example, a cake recipe with/without salt?

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  1. I think salt may sometimes be omitted if the butter in the recipe is salted butter. I tend to use unsalted butter, and many of the recipes I use call specifically for unsalted butter, so I add salt separately (this allows for better control of how much salt you are adding to whatever you're making).

    Personally I would not trust a recipe that called for zero salt... salt brings out a lot of nuances in flavor (particularly in desserts) and is a key key key ingredient in baking, IMHO.

    1. As a baker who moved from the US to the UK, I can tell the difference. It's as if baked goods here are just 'flat'. I always make a new recipe the first time as it's written, but the majority of the time, my second go-round notes say 'needs a little salt'. Not much, maybe 1/4 tsp for every 1-2cups of flour, depending on if I am using butter as well. (only because the default household butter is salted, and I generally don't have unsalted at hand).

      1. i use very little salt, almost never adding it to recipes of my own creation. But I do find it's absolutely necessary in bread baking. For cakes, cookies, and the like, I use unsalted butter and a quarter, or less, of the amount called for in the recipe.

        1. Salt may have a function in baking besides taste, it can act as an agent to slow down the rising process in baking.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Ruthie789

            Salt slows Yeast growth but I do not think that it has any effect on Chemical Leaveners

            1. re: Ruthie789

              You should not knead un-salted dough, or it can suffer ill effects.
              You can withhold the salt if you gently mix the dough and allow it to rest during an autolyse period. But before kneading the dough, the salt should be added or the dough can become over-oxidized and color and flavor of the bread will suffer.
              From Page 20 "Bread Baking, An Artisan's Perspective" by Daniel T. DiMuzio
              "When salt is added to a dough, it tightens the gluten structure and adds strength.
              "...Salt is a natural antioxidant, and if we subtract salt from a bread dough being mixed at high speed, the rate of oxidation in the dough is dramatically increased. Most of the carotenoid pigments may be destroyed before the salt is added, thereby significantly reducing the flavor and aroma components
              associated with them..."
              Page 52 Bread Baking, "An Artisan's Perspective" by Daniel T. DiMuzio
              "...Some bread bakers prefer to hold back any salt addition until mixing is nearly finished in an effort to shorten the mix time during production. If bakers do hold back adding the salt, the dough will absorb much more oxygen than normal, and over-oxidation may occur before the salt is added. Flavor and color can be seriously compromised this way, so, in the interest of maintaining good quality, it is optimal for a baker to add the salt toward the beginning of the mixing cycle.
              An exception to this principle occurs when you incorporate an autolyse into your mixing procedure. During an autolyse, salt is held back until the rest period is over in order to encourage an increase in enzyme activity. Because no high-speed mixing occurs before or during the autolyse, the dough's color and flavor can still be preserved in the temporary absence of salt. Before the remaining mix at high speed commences, the salt in the formula should be added to maximize its anti-oxidizing effects..."

            2. If a recipe I'm using to bake something doesn't call for salt, I add it. IMO, ALL sweets and baked goods need salt. No exceptions. Without it they just taste either bland, too sweet or weirdly unbalanced.

              1. I thought you need salt to activate the baking powder(or soda I can never remember which)? Maybe uk banks on people using salted butter?

                1 Reply
                1. re: daislander

                  You need an acid for baking soda but neither need salt.

                2. Maybe people in the UK haven't burnt out their tastebuds with a salt overload, compared to most in the US. Those who eat in US restaurants get a HUGE amount of salt in their food. And the more you eat, the more you crave...

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: AnneInMpls

                    I have noticed that, eating at other people's homes here in the UK, it seems like there is rarely salt used during cooking or available on the table. The only person I've met here who uses salt regularly is a chef who also smokes, and she admits her palate is shot.

                    1. re: tacosandbeer

                      So is there a lot of sodium in the restaurant food in the UK?

                      1. re: sandylc

                        I'm probably not the one to ask - we're located in a bit of a black hole for decent restaurants, and Mr Tacos and I are both pretty good home cooks (with two small Chowpups) - so we rarely eat out.

                        I have noticed that most vegetables I've had are served completely unseasoned. Not even butter.

                  2. Entirely a matter of what you're used to. If you're used to it, you will feel the absence in many baked goods. If you're used to salt-free baking, salt in sweets can be distasteful.

                    We are hard-wired to like salt, but there is no doubt that it masks other flavors. I regard salt as a cheap-and-easy way of making food taste good. At price of masking all the other wonderful flavors in the world.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: AdinaA

                      Actually, salt is a flavor enhancer, not a flavor masker.

                      1. re: sandylc

                        I agree. I like very small amounts of salt but find it brightens many flavors.

                      2. re: AdinaA

                        there is a vast difference between salty-sugary-processed junk-with garbage-oil vs. a home-made baked good where a dash of salt only enhances.

                      3. Check to see if the cake recipes use self raising flour. It's common in the UK. If they do, there is already salt added to the flour, so you don't need to put extra in the recipe.

                        7 Replies
                        1. re: jammy

                          Though when I recently looked at self raising flour labels, the UK brands had considerably less sodium than the USA brands.

                          In my limited experience, USA brands of self-rising flour have enough salt to taste good in savory items like plain biscuits, but too much for sweet things (even scones).

                          1. re: paulj

                            Most US cake recipes do not call for self rising flour while in the UK they do.

                            1. re: chefj

                              In my limited experience, a cake with USA self rising flour would be too salty.


                              Nigella Team is saying the same thing. No salt in UK self-rising flour. USA sr flour has about 1/2t salt per cup. I use a bit less than that in my biscuits.

                              There's a Flanders and Swan song, 'The English are best', which complains about the Scots: 'they eat salty porridge'. Expectations re. saltiness vary by person, culture, and meal.

                              1. re: paulj

                                And here are a couple of US recipes that all call for self rising flour that seem to get great reviews.
                                No problems with saltiness and no extra salt add to the recipes.

                                1. re: chefj

                                  They have a similar recipe using AP
                                  For the same amount of flour (3 1/4c) it calls for 1tsp salt.

                                2. re: paulj

                                  The magnolia cupcake recipe uses self rising flour. It's an excellent cupcake, not at all salty. Maybe the English just like blander food.

                                  1. re: chowser

                                    You have a point. In my area there is a bar whose owners studied fish and chips in England and then brought their knowledge back to make an English version here.

                                    Well, this fish is great with ONE exception: It desperately needs salt. Not just shaken on at time of eating (it falls off), but somewhere on the fish or in the batter before it is cooked.

                                    I asked them about it once and they made it clear that the fish was seasoned exactly as they intended it to be for authentic F&C.